Longer telomeres mean a healthier and longer life. So it behooves us to engage in activities and behaviors that protect our telomeres and consequently help us to avoid cancer, heart disease, and other age-related illnesses (for more information about what telomeres are and why they’re important, check out this post). Fortunately, there are some pretty straightforward ways to keep our telomeres long and our bodies and brains healthy. Read on for more details:
Eat Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
You’re probably tired of being told to eat your veggies. But what if I told you that they could make your telomeres longer, your tissues younger, and possibly extend your life? That sounds a little more exciting. Colorful vegetables like chard, kale, and carrots, and fruits like purple grapes, pomegranates, and cherries are full of antioxidant nutrients that can keep you and your telomeres healthy. As a general rule, darker fruits and veggies are best, one of the reasons blueberries are so popular.
Fruits and vegetables are beneficial whether they are cooked or raw, so don’t worry about finding ways to eat raw kale if you would prefer to eat kale chips. In some cases, cooking foods makes the nutrients more bioavailable. Blueberries are an excellent example – It is easier to absorb nutrients from cooked blueberries than from raw. Likewise for tomatoes.
The common recommendation is to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. I would recommend eating even more than this – closer to 8-10 or more. Legumes such as lentils and black beans are another great option for maintaining longer telomeres. Plant foods are full of micronutrients, some of which we might not even know exist, and the more we eat of them the better.
Other antioxidant sources:
- Green tea – Green tea is rich in polyphenols and has well-documented health benefits
- Dark chocolate – The darker the better, chocolate is another antioxidant-rich food
- Turmeric – Increasingly popular, turmeric has potent anti-inflammatory properties. It is most effective when consumed with black pepper and some sort of fat like coconut or avocado
I think by now we’re all pretty familiar with the idea that exercise is good for our health. It turns out that it can also help you live longer by keeping your telomeres long. Not just any exercise will prevent and repair telomere damage, so if telomere length is your goal, it’s important to include the right type of activity in your exercise rotation.
Endurance exercise has been shown to have a substantial impact on telomere length. Long-distance running is the most well-researched, with study after study extolling the benefits of running and its positive impact on telomere length. Not a runner? Distance cycling and swimming are also beneficial and can provide an alternative to running or a way to mix up activity types. Other forms of endurance exercise haven’t been studied much, but there’s a good chance that any long-term activity that keeps your heart rate up has a beneficial effect on telomere length.
Yoga is also beneficial in terms of longevity. Several studies show a positive impact of consistent yoga practice on telomere length. It has been shown to maintain telomere length in cancer patients and in some cases lengthen telomeres. All types of yoga appear to be beneficial, especially those that have a mindfulness component. Yoga is also a great complement to running and other types of exercise and can fit really well into just about any lifestyle.
Looking for some inspiration? Check these out:
- Born to Run – I read this book a few years ago, and I wanted to go for a run every day that I picked it up. It is entertaining, informative, and extremely motivating. It will also probably spark your interest in minimalist shoes.
- Finding Ultra – I have mentioned Rich Roll’s podcast in a previous post. His book is just as engaging and, again, very motivating.
- Namaslay – I haven’t yet read Namaslay, but I am totally obsessed with Yoga by Candace. Everything Candace does is great, and I’m sure her book will not disappoint. She teaches fun, challenging, and scalable lessons through videos on her blog, all of which are excellent. I also use her app whenever I travel.
Meditation can make you happier, healthier, and more enjoyable to be around. As it turns out, it can also help you live longer. Meditation can feel daunting for a number of reasons. It is often viewed by the mainstream as unscientific or ineffective. Others associated meditation with religion, which can make devout atheists keep their distance. However, a growing body of science is showing us that meditation has real, quantifiable beneficial effects on our bodies, brains, and relationships. Many non-religious people are finding meditation to be a powerful way to move the needle, even if only a small amount, toward becoming a happier version of themselves.
There is also a common perception that, in order to be effective, meditation has to be practiced for several hours per day. On the contrary, just 10 minutes of meditation per day can be quite beneficial. Perhaps the most common objection I hear is confusion over which type of meditation to practice.
There are so many different styles of meditation, from mindfulness to transcendental to zen, that it can seem overwhelming to figure out where to start. I have found the best recommendation to be to just start wherever is easiest. Any type of meditation is beneficial, and if you find that you don’t like mindfulness, you can always try out another style. I have found the easiest entry point is often to use a guided meditation app like Headspace. Headspace is an incredible resource for beginning a meditation practice. You are encouraged to practice every day and provided with short guided sessions. The free version includes ten 10-minute guided meditations, while the paid version has longer meditations, with both guided and unguided versions.
Wherever you are in your practice, I feel that the benefits of meditation can’t be overstated. And with growing research on the beneficial effect on telomeres, there is compelling evidence that meditation could help you live longer.
- 10% Happier – Still skeptical? 10% happier was written by someone who used to be a meditation skeptic, but found enough benefit from his meditation practice that he wrote a book and hosts a podcast dedicated to talking about meditation.
- Beyond the Breath – I found this book to be extremely helpful both in providing a background for meditation and providing a ‘how-to’ for starting a mindfulness-based meditation practice.
It seems like every day a new study comes out extolling the many benefits of sleep. Well, you can add one more to the list. Some have called sleep ‘the fountain of youth’, and for good reason. Getting sufficient sleep is critical for maintaining telomere length and slowing the aging process. For most people, that means getting at least 8 hours of sleep per night. For many, it’s closer to 9, and for some 7 ½ hours is sufficient. Sleeping fewer hours per night means shorter telomeres. Perhaps this is at least part of the explanation for the link between lack of sleep and susceptibility to cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses.
Almost as important as the number of hours of sleep is sleep quality. If you are tossing and turning all night, or sleep in a room flooded with artificial light, your sleep quality declines and brings your health down with it. It is also important to go to bed relatively early and to set yourself up for success by creating bedtime habits that allow for winding down and relaxing in the time before sleep.
Key components of sleep hygiene are to sleep in a completely dark room (or wear an eye mask), make sure the bedroom is the right temperature – for most people this is around 68 degrees Fahrenheit, don’t look at screens for 2 hours before bed, and create a bedtime routine to prepare your body and brain for sleep. It is also usually best to be in bed before 10pm.
Sleep is critical for keeping your telomeres long and your cells young. Sufficient, high-quality sleep really will keep you looking and feeling younger and healthier and will help to stave off cancer and chronic disease. Not to mention that sleep is so very enjoyable. So, sleep as long as you can and as well as you can to keep your telomeres healthy.
Can’t sleep? These might help:
- The Sleep Revolution – Arianna Huffington has written a comprehensive and action-oriented book to help you get more and better quality sleep, with the ultimate goal of improving your waking life.
- Go To Bed – Sarah Ballantyne is the authority on the autoimmune protocol. Although I no longer follow a paleo diet, I put a lot of stock in the work and research of Sarah Ballantyne, and I highly recommend her sleep guide as a tool to help you get a better quality and longer night’s sleep. She provides an easy-to-follow 14-step guide to getting a better night’s sleep
In addition to eating, sleeping, meditating, and exercising, there are some supplements you can take to help bolster your telomere protection. These are some of my favorites:
- Vitamin D – It is best to get vitamin D from the sun, in the form of at least 15-20 minutes of unprotected sun exposure per day. However, if that isn’t possible, a good quality vitamin D supplement can help to make up the difference. I use Country Life, which has a vegan and non-vegan version. The Vegan version uses sunflower oil, and the other contains MCT oil (an excellent oil option) but uses gelatin capsules.
- Magnesium – Magnesium deficiency is extremely common and can lead to weakened bones, increased stress, and other problems. The nutrient also influences telomere length, likely through its effect on DNA integrity, oxidative stress, and inflammation.
- Vitamin C – A common antioxidant that is known to help boost the immune system, vitamin C is a safe and easily available supplement. It is best to get is from food sources, so I love to use camu camu powder in my smoothies. You can also find camu camu in supplement form if you don’t like the taste.
A strong social support system consisting of friends, family, and community members has consistently been linked to increased lifespan. Not surprisingly, studies have shown that a lack of social support is related to shorter telomere length. This may be in large part to the impact of social support on stress levels. Typically those with strong social circles are better able to cope with stressful life events, which may in turn protect telomeres from stress-related damage. Spending time with people you care about can also boost neurotransmitter levels that can positively impact telomere length.
Do you have any thoughts or questions? I would love to hear from you in the comments!